Posts Tagged With: Natalie Babbitt

8th Grade Reading: Books of Death vs. Books We Love

My 13-year old son came home from school today and complained about his reading assignment, Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom. My son said, “We’re on page 30, and three people have died already!”

This year in 8th grade literature is referred to as the Year of Death in my house. My older son went through it three years ago and still talks about it. He had to survive reading Tuesdays With Morrie, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Romeo and Juliet by you-know-who. This September, the recommended book to read for fun is Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (who took Judy Garland’s birth name for the narrator), a violent book that many people have enjoyed despite the blood and gore.

My son won’t touch it.

I have put a lot of effort into finding books for my boys to read. Reading is in direct competition with video games, so it’s important to have a book going all the time, too. The older one has enjoyed Gary Paulsen, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and lots of other pretty normal boy books. He also enjoyed Great Expectations, which I made him read two summers ago when I realized the school district did not have any Dickens in its curriculum. But my younger son has been a special kind of challenge. He liked The Giver but didn’t like the sequel. He liked The Lightning Thief but none of the others. He has refused to try the Harry Potter and Narnia books. I begged him to read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, but I was rejected. He liked several of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books, but he seems to have outgrown them. Of course he has enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate books, but he’s outgrowing those, too. I have brought home stacks of books taken from recommended lists by our library, Goodreads, Guys Read, all great sources, only to have him choose only one book that sounds okay. Then he’ll read about a third of it before he gives up. This happened with A Wrinkle in Time and several other great books. I have been horrified about this for months.

I am happy to say that he loves nonfiction astronomy and cosmology books. He has read several books by Neil deGrasse Tyson, including Death by Black Hole a couple of times and currently Space Chronicles. He reads Astronomy magazine. When I emailed his teachers to ask them why he doesn’t read fiction, they told me he reads and understands well but doesn’t like a lot of books. Now, can I just say that the 8th grade reading list is not helping instill a love of books?

Miraculously, I recently handed him a book that he likes and is reading on his own. I couldn’t believe it when I first caught him reading it. He is two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to finish. And the winner is . . .

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THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster!!

Now for some books we do love!

Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan
R.J. Palacio, Wonder
Jerry Spinelli, Wringer
Lois Lowry, The Giver
Bobbie Pyron, A Dog’s Way Home
William F. Hallstead, Tundra
E.L. Konigsberg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Lana Krumwiede, Freakling, Archon, and True Son (The Psi Chronicles)
Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden, Found, and Sent
Louis Sachar, Holes

Let me know what you think! Any other book ideas?

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Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: | 7 Comments

My kids’ book recommendations

I began my children’s literature education by reading to my kids. The first books were board and picture books, the favorites demanded over and over again. Some of them I loved and some I tolerated. And part of the joy of a picture book is a snuggly kid in my lap and hearing them laugh or gasp or point out the bird character who is never mentioned in the text.

Now the kids are the ones recommending middle grade books for me to read. I began with Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, then more recently read RJ Palacio’s Wonder, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. These are the books they came home from school with and said, Mom, you have to read this.

I loved them all. How is that possible? I believe having a child tell a parent to read a book is an incredible recommendation. Their hearts were touched by these books, and they wanted to share their experience. I think when grown-ups recommend books to kids, sometimes we want to help them in some way. We hope a book will expose them to something new, interest them in reading, or even teach them something specific, perhaps about prejudice or animal welfare. But when I read these books, I didn’t learn those things at all.

I admired Babbitt’s tone and the atmosphere of Tuck Everlasting (it actually reminded me a bit of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native); I felt I had visited some very wise old people in an unheard fairy tale. With the other three, I met characters I hold very dear. Frankly, I’m relatively new to middle grade books because when I was a kid, I mostly read Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. I could have read all those Katherine Paterson books when I was 12, and I missed out! But do my recommendations mean as much to my kids as their recommendations do to me?

I don’t think so. Mostly I have spent time finding books that they are willing to try and I hope they enjoy. This has been very hard in a family where I am the only reading role model, and both kids are boys who are so different. There were a few hits, like the Captain Underpants books (which I don’t think are the least bit inappropriate, thank you very much). But one boy loved Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchersand the other refused to crack it open. One is a die-hard fan of Rick Riordan, but the other has to have his animal books instead. So when they both recommend books like Tuck, I pay attention.

What great books have your kids recommended to you?

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